Elwin Ransom is on vacation, taking a walking tour alone through the English countryside. Seeking shelter from the rain and lodging for the night, he meets a farm woman, frantic that her mentally disabled son, Harry, has not yet come home from his job at a neighboring professor’s home. Hoping this professor might provide lodging, he promises to find Harry.
The professor’s house is dark and locked. Ransom squeezes through the hedge and finds Professor Weston and his friend, Devine, in a scuffle with young Harry. Startled, they let Harry go. Devine recognizes Ransom as an old schoolmate and then introduces him to Weston, a renowned physicist. They offer Ransom a drink, and Ransom realizes too late that he has been drugged.
Ransom regains consciousness aboard a spaceship. He overhears Weston and Devine say they are returning to Malacandra, where aliens called sorns ordered them to bring a human sacrifice. Ransom realizes he is that sacrifice.
As they travel, Ransom finds that space is not black, cold, or vacant but flooded with invigorating light. A month later, they land on Malacandra. The ground is covered by a rubbery pink vegetation, the sky is pale blue, and the distant mountains are lavender: It is a bright, pastel world. Since the gravity is so low, everything (mountains, trees, ocean waves) is thinner and taller than on Earth.
The three men set up camp. Six sorns approach, each one fourteen feet tall, pale, and spidery thin. Devine and Weston grab Ransom and pull him toward the sorns, but as they step into a lake, a large sea monster with crocodile-like jaws attacks them. As Devine and Weston shoot at it, Ransom escapes. The next day, Ransom encounters an alien that looks like a tall otter. They stare curiously at each other and try to communicate. The alien is a hross, and Ransom is eager to learn its language. After a long, choppy boat ride and a short walk, they arrive at the hross village.
Ransom lives peacefully among the hrossa for about five weeks, studying the language and becoming close friends with Hyoi, the hross who first found him. He learns that in addition to sorns and hrossa, there is a third intelligent species on the planet called pfifltriggi, crafters who make articles from gold. The three species, or hnau, live in harmony.
Ransom is also instructed in their religion: Maleldil the Young created all things, and now lives with the Old One. A spirit called Oyarsa rules the whole planet, and lesser spirit beings named eldil frequently visit the planet and talk to its inhabitants. The hrossa insist that Ransom should go to Oyarsa. Ransom tells the hrossa about the sea monster with the crocodile jaws. They get intensely excited: The hnakra has not been seen for many years. The greatest honor in their culture is to kill the hnakra....
(The entire section is 1154 words.)